Some women, finding time on their hands after children leave home, will have the good sense to take up knitting. Or travel. Or advocacy for poverty stricken women in developing countries. Or selling hand woven ipod covers at local farmer’s markets. Me, I took up clog dancing.
By way of full disclosure I should admit that my early tap career was cut short by a bout of rheumatic fever at the age of seven. I spent a summer of strictly enforced leisure, not allowed to walk upstairs or run. Dancing lessons stopped and I was excused from PE class for the following 3 years. My mother, weary veteran of all of my dance recitals and well aware of my neurological limitations, said maybe it was “for the best” that I not go back to tap or ballet classes as the Dumas School of Dance. Ha! What could she know of this unrealized dream? If a girl’s gotta dance, a girl’s gotta dance. Even decades later. Clog dancing is the perfect midlife crisis activity. There is tapping, stamping, toe action, heel action and all of this to any sort of music you can imagine. I thought perhaps I’d eventually be achieving something like THIS, or maybe THIS. But alas, I think I’ll be lucky to settle for something more like THIS. (Judging by the figures on some of these women, indeed, I think I may have found my tribe.)
Tracy, backbone of the Emerald City Cloggers, is the soul of kindness. He has infinite patience with our learning the basic clog, letting us practice it again and again as needed. He never once winced or rolled his eyes as I, oldest student by at least 15 years, dogged away to master the “cowboy” or the “clog over vine.” I have the approximate motor skills of a delayed 3-year-old, and never was this more apparent then watching myself struggle with the dreaded “turning push-off” in the wall of mirrors at dance class . Ugh. Not for the faint of heart.
Imagine my surprise, then, when he and his assistant Gina invited me to be part of Seattle’s annual “Figgy Pudding” caroling competition at downtown Westlake Center. The annual charity event raises money for Pike Market Senior Center, and Gina wanted us to join the fun with some Christmas clogging. Sounded good at the time. I was flattered and excited. (My first dance recital since that fateful illness almost fifty years ago!)
One small detail, though: once you agree to perform, you have to, um, perform. Oy. While the younger and/or experienced dancers would pick up the steps on the first time through, I would stumble and wrestle with them the entire lesson. Then I would go home and practice them again and again. And again, and again. And then again for good measure.
These steps are not rocket science. More like Romper Room science, and even so they were beyond me. Anne, my partner, would see me emerging from my den sweating and exhausted after thirty times through Here Comes Santa Claus. And when I started practicing Frosty the Snowman, she wouldn’t even stay in the house. I don’t know if it was the childish music playing over and over, or the juxtaposition of that with all the profanity she heard when I missed a step. I only know she lost her stomach for being in the vicinity while I rehearsed.
Actually, I started to get the steps pretty well if I played the music at 80% speed and kept the cue sheet close at hand. The night I went to my lesson and got all the way through “Santa” without a single misstep I was exhilarated! Smiling, Gina handed me my cane. A black cane with white tips.
“What’s that for?” I looked at it in horror.
“We’ve added some cane action to go with the steps,” Was that grin on her face schadenfreude, or teacherly pride?
Good God in heaven. We started again adding the cane component and it was as though someone had come in and completely wiped out my motor hard drive. Not only could I not get the cane part, I had somehow forgotten the steps I thought I’d mastered. With the cane in my hand I was both retarded and amnesic. Square one. Like learning to ride a bike in my mid-fifties, only blindfolded and without training wheels. Tracy and Gina were their patient selves, letting me repeat the movements over and over. They slowed the music down until it sounded like an eerie, rowling, rather ill, water buffalo. (Heeeeeere Coooooooooomes Saaaaaaaaaata Claaaaaaauuuus, Heeeeeere Coooooooooomes Saaaaaaaaaata Claaaaaaauuuus, in a deep, bass, dying zombie sort of voice.)
I went home. I told Anne no matter what noises she heard coming from the den, DON’T COME IN. (Like the old werewolf movies.) She was more than happy to oblige. In fact, she saved grocery shopping or runs to the recycle center for my “practice” sessions. When she came home I would be collapsed on the couch, disheveled and frustrated. She knew enough not to ask me how it was going.
Slowwwwwwwly I learned the steps. With cane. Faster, faster and then with the music speed at 100 percent. That was when they gave us our hats. *&#*$% hats!! So I started over. Same process. With the hat on my head all the steps I’d learned, with and without cane, evaporated. I had to learn everything – and I mean everything – from scratch. Anne moved out until after the performance.
After watching my glacial progress on Frosty and Santa, Tracy and Gina decided to spare me learning Sleigh Ride. One night Tracy said, with the kindest, most sympathetic look on his face, “We think it might be best if you just focused on Frosty and Here Comes Santa Claus,” and put your best effort into those two numbers.
Are you kidding? If I had to learn a third song I would have fainted. I would have assumed a fetal position and started sobbing right there. I could see he was watching me to see how I would take the news. I calmly agreed that those first two songs were probably the best place for my energy. He looked relieved. And I looked like someone who just heard the jury say, “We find the defendant…….. NOT guilty.” I sighed an enormous sigh and did a turning push-off with my cane just to show there were no hard feelings.
The next week Gina bought us our ‘costumes.’ Black and white striped socks, a black vest, striped turtle necks (mine a size too small) and, of course, top hats and canes. (I will add black Capri pants to mine, and the others will each choose some sort of black bottom to wear.) A couple of weeks later she added striped gloves and a matching scarf to the ensemble. Good, if I’m arrested for killing a snickering Figgy Pudding onlooker, I will already be in prison garb.
Tonight I am trying to get the hat moves synchronized with all the “thumpity-thumps” in Frosty. Then I’ll practice Here Comes Santa until I have ceased poking myself in the eye with the cane every time I do a turning push-off “right down Santa Claus lane.” I know makeup will cover the shiner, but it’s the principle of the thing. Anne says she didn’t think anything would be harder on our relationship than teenagers were, but she is beginning to think that maybe Frosty and Santa will do us in. I just pat her on the head with my striped gloved hand and reassure her that it will all be over soon.
Figgy Pudding is December 5th. Stay tuned. We’ll talk.